It's getting 'slightly easier' to report Iraq, says BBC

The recent surge in American troops and population movements in Iraq have combined to make reporting operations in the country “slightly easier”, according to Jonathan Baker, BBC deputy head of newsgathering.

BBC News has been marking the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq this week with a series of special programmes and online coverage, including reports from BBC world affairs editor John Simpson in Baghdad, Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen on board an aircraft carrier and material from reporters embedded with both US and British troops.

Baker said that although over the past four years media organisations have become more constrained in what they can do and have had to build up security, the situation has recently eased slightly.

He said: “At the moment it’s a little bit more relaxed than it has been in the past, partly because this surge in American troops has put a lot more soldiers on the streets and discouraged the militias from showing their faces, so they’re lying low to a certain extent.

“Another possible reason is that there been a lot of movement of populations within the districts, either forced or voluntary, so the areas are more sort of homogeneous in terms of the background of the people there, so there’s less tension inside the districts.”

As part of Simpson’s coverage he visited Sadr City, a place the BBC have visited in the past, but have had to be wary of doing since the kidnap of Guardian journalist Rory Carroll in October 2005. Baker said the BBC was only able to do that with the co-operation and protection of the Mahdi army which controls the area.

The BBC also showed Ben Brown reporting from Baghdad, who rather than being on the roof with the satellite dishes, was able to report from another part of Baghdad by the river bank. Baker said: “It wasn’t a huge distance [from their office], but it’s something they wouldn’t have been able to do three months ago.

“It’s still not possible to travel within Baghdad completely freely or at all outside Baghdad unless you are embedded with the American or British Army, with the exception of Kurdistan in the North, where it is and always had been much more moderate.”

The main concern of journalists is being targeted for being a journalist, to shut up mouths that loudly criticise and convey truth to the public – especially about what the insurgents and militants do.

[Information] black-outs and antijournalism behaviour of government officials is another barrier in front of journalists as [the government] tries to keep everything secret and unreported in fear of being questioned or investigated by higher officials.

On the other side, militants threaten journalists who try to convey the truth and what really happens on the ground to the public – so there is no one to protect the journalists.

After April 2003, we were introduced to international standards of media and how we should act neutrally and call the terrorists ‘militants’ or ‘insurgents’

and call armed groups such as the Badir Brigade ‘militias’.

We usually avoid writing opinion pieces and editorial where we are supposed to present our points of view, as this might send you to the morgue as has happened to many Iraqi journalists and reporters.

One of my female colleagues was kidnapped by militants who later sent us four tapes with her telling them our names and who we work for.

Another colleague was killed and the insurgents used his cell phone to call his colleagues saying they will kill all of them sooner or later.

Our psychological state is unbalanced because we live and think in fear and worry and always think about our destiny and that of our family members, relatives and friends.

I myself escaped an assassination attempt and was injured. So far, I have been through surgery twice for covering events in Mosul, a hotbed for extremist Islamists, but I have never thought about quitting, as journalism is my life and I really love it.

I hope we will find someone who thinks about how to protect us because the Mosul chief of police carelessly refused to provide journalists with guns to protect themselves, while his bodyguards take care of him.

Deputy head of newsgathering says it’s ‘more relaxed’ as BBC marks anniversary “A colleague was killed and the insurgents used his cell phone to call his colleagues saying they will kill all of them sooner or later”

The BBC is the only British broadcaster that has been in Iraq consistently throughout the conflict. As well as the huge security risks involved, news organisations have to face the major cost of maintaining a bureau, which Baker said are “beyond the reach of all but the largest and most serious news organisations”.

He said: “We have always had to weigh in the balance, and continue to do so, the editorial value of what we are able to provide from Iraq, set against the risks which are being run by the people who are providing that coverage. It has been our view up to now that the editorial value does outweigh the risk.”

Simpson, above, reported from Baghdad and visited Sadr City; Bowen, right, was on board an aircraft carrier P04_PGW_0323.qxd 21/3/07 10:39 Page 4

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